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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel
Distributed by: Focus Features, Trigger Street Productions, Michael De Luca Productions.
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden
Very mixed emotions going into this thing. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is the first film in some time that is written by a woman, directed by a woman, adapted from a book written by a woman, and starring a woman in some time. The downside? Said book was based off of a fan-fiction. Yeah; this made me weep inside. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is awful. Akin to somebody adapting one of the fan fictions I wrote in the 7th grade into a multi-million dollar blockbuster.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a bookwormy type who has never released her ‘inner goddess’ (those infamous passages from the book were left on the cutting room floor, shout out to director Sam Taylor-Johnson for making the picture slightly less miserable). She interviews billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) who comes off less like a businessman and more like a 10 year old playing dress-up.
Seriously, I doubt Dornan could have done much to salvage the material even if he gave a good performance. Dakota Johnson gave a good performance and it didn’t help the film as much as it needed, but he really does not make a good case for himself. Part of this is the American accent, which Belfast-born Dornan doesn’t seem to have quite mastered yet. Who even knows, Dornan could end up making it, he was pretty good on THE FALL after all….portraying a serial killer.
That makes a good segue into my first big problem with the movie. Christian Grey is not “sexy”, he’s creepy, really, really creepy. One of his big draws is he has a contract, that Anastasia has to sign before they get intimate. One of the things it requires is that she never speaks about their relationship, his lawyer recommends it, he says. How fast would a girl sprint from this guy in a realistic situation? Dornan could be good, he should audition to play a crazed murderer on HANNIBAL. It’s a good show, good gig.
Things get kinky, because Christian is into being a 'dominant.’ Only he’s never consistent about it. He says he doesn’t do romance, and then he takes Ana on a romantic plane ride. He buys her a car as a romantic gesture. The bloke can’t make up his bloody mind. Do I prefer this Christian, with motivations that don’t make any sense and behavior that’s slightly creepy? Do I prefer it over the sociopath EL James tried to sell as a likable, sympathetic, bad boy anti-hero in her book? I don’t know, but it doesn’t work. I did not buy him at all.
The screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, was fighting an uphill battle from day one. Does she openly offend everyone and their mother by sticking with the original source material religiously? Or does she alienate the fan base by making fun of the source material? She apparently chose both, which is unfortunate, as it ends up, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY doesn’t figure out what it wants to be.
The movie lacks a solid third act, ending just in the middle of what would be considered the second act. This is due predominately to the pacing of the book, which features a bunch of situations where sex happens and then just ends abruptly.
I’m going to digress, and sing some praises of FIFTY SHADES. There are things that are actually working here. Dakota Johnson for one, is very charming. She actually takes this role and makes this character somewhat palatable. This girl actually sticks up for herself, she’s sassy, she’s got personality. Marcel, Johnson, and Taylor-Johnson do respectable work revising this character. Taylor-Johnson actually manages to make a lot of the scenes in this film look pretty good. The “playroom” as Christian referred to it (leading to snickers induced by my audience) actually has a palette that is enjoyable to look at. The opening sequence also stands out, with wisely chosen music to go over the credits. The choices of music were pretty good in general.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY won’t be the worst movie I’ve seen all year, if this year goes like last year it will probably be on my list due to the fact that I see maybe 15 bad movies on average, but it won’t be high. There’s plenty coming out that look to be tougher sits. I’ve got to segue into how this movie relates to feminism, because that’s a hot button discussion right now. There are plenty of women on both sides of the discussion that I know and respect. My two cents is that one of the important parts of feminism as it continues to grow is to not confine women to a specific opinion on a specific thing. (I.e. if a woman enjoyed FIFTY SHADES, they enjoyed FIFTY SHADES, more power to them). Does this make me like the movie? No. Not in the slightest. As a critic I cannot recommend FIFTY SHADES OF GREY to anyone. Its most cardinal sin is how ungodly boring it is. A film with this much sex should not be this bloody dull.
Suggestion: Skip it